Monday, August 6, 2012

American Chicken sandwich

I was hoping the Chic-fil-A gay marriage debacle wouldn't escalate the way it did. No one came out of this conflict looking good, except for the food chain, of course, that showed record profits. It wasn’t too surprising. I knew that the chicken giant that already surpassed McDonald’s as the biggest fast food franchise in America in terms of revenue per restaraunt would not be harmed by this. They have long associated themselves with the so-called traditional family values and if anything, their customer base will love them even more. The restaurant profile  was of course no secret or mystery and anybody that read anything about Chic-fil-A or its’ founder wasn’t shocked that he speaks strongly against marriage. None of this was really new information. The only thing that isn’t clear to me is if it’s the chain itself or the man behind it that donates to the ant-gay causes, because I’ve seen conflicting reports. As part of their business model they have been always closed on Sundays a move that many say costs them many millions of  dollars a year. I’d say whatever they lose on that day they might just as well be getting back during the week by creating a stronger sense of loyalty among the strongly religious Christian families. By showing that the business is willing to sacrifice good money for the sake of observing the  7th day Chic-fil-A established itself as part of the community, as “one of us” for many people. I will never understand people who have such strong anti-gay views just as much as I will never understand how people can have such strong views on other issues that don’t affect them or their way of life. But whoever thought it was a good idea to let this issue blow up the way it did on either side was seriously misguided. Chic-fil-A couldn’t pay for this kind of publicity and the sale volumes speak for themselves. Was that the idea? To give them more business? And right wing politicians lead to this absurd notion that it’s your civic duty to go and buy a chicken sandwich. That you need to stand for American values by letting a private business make even more millions of dollars. That, as if this was a matter of national concern, you’re going  wait in lines that last Wednesday were extraordinarily long in Summer heat to buy from this one vendor as if you were fighting some kind of cultural war with fries on the side. I sure hope that those who encouraged people to shop at their restaurants or have a stake in them or were well compensated. Because you couldn’t ask for a stronger endorsement and you couldn’t dream of a better campaign that will never go away. In the minds of many people Chic-fil-A now forever be the all-American restaurant that respects values and cherishes families. It will be seen as the underdog, although it is a market leader. Soon people will not even remember the details, but the general notion that America loves Chic-fil-A will remain.

I don’t believe in politicizing food.  If I were to avoid a food place it would be for reasons involving their product or service. I remember there was an issue involving low pay of produce pickers I believe at one of the vegetable suppliers for the University that got a lot of people upset. I’m not sure how I feel about minimum wages, but I understood the controversy.   I’ve eaten a Chic-fill-A before, for a few months it was the closest restaurant to where I have lived. I’m not a big fan of their food, though I read that their  fries cooked in peanut oil are believed to be healthier than the deep fried ones. I’m not a big fan of boycotts. They never work. I remember when one of my very liberal friends tried to pass out bumper stickers encouraging people to not watch Fox News. She of course never watched the channel never was somebody they catered to , she was never part of their base. So they wouldn’t be hurt by her deciding to still not watch it as they were not selling anything to her. It’s a tough call. I pay for a service, I’m happy with the product, if it’s good value, should I care about anything else?  We never think of those things as endorsements of any kind If I go to a store, I order a pizza or hire a cleaning service and everything is satisfactory, I don’t know if the owner is spending it all on guns or drugs or prostitutes. I don’t know if he’s racist, misogynistic or a homophobe. You can say the difference is- we know, the man came out and said it. But then again none of this is really new information. And one of my friends pointed out that they may be supporting anti-abortion movements as well. And that wouldn’t be surprising either.  While I’m disagreeing with the Chick-fil-A head on this issue, I’m on the other side of many others from Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins or Tom Cruise. Should I boycott their movies too? Or can we separate a product from the person, a viewpoint from art? Instead of boycotting anyone or anything, the movement should be proactive. Say, a “Get a sandwich at Relish-day” (that has much better chicken in my opinion anyway) or send a receipt from any other fast food to Chick-fil-A day. Why didn’t anybody think of that?  Many people just got up and bought a sandwich simply because they believe that politics should stay out of food, businesses should be allowed to grow and people can have any kind of stupid and small minded views they desire. Is it better to not know what somebody thinks when you’re giving them your money? Just because they don’t say it, doesn’t mean it’s not going through their head. At least when you know and you decide it bothers you you can go elsewhere next time. What is really unfortunate, those who came out to support the restaurant based on their free marked believes will forever be lumped together with those who oppose gay rights. I can imagine the record turnouts being used to spin that agenda and encourage future activities by the ‘traditionalists’. But there is also another issue. 

Chick-Fil-A is a franchise. Your friend, your neighbor, someone from your community who runs it and put in however small investment would hurt if the boycott was successful. I was surprised that the lines were long even in Gainesville, a college town in Florida, seen as very liberal, with very visible gay minority student groups often funded by the University. I would guess that the only locations that hurt from this might’ve been the campus ones. If so, University would suffer UF Chic-fil-A’s are maintained and staffed by Aramark, just like Subway or Starbucks. A business is more than a person and their views. It’s the employees, suppliers, franchisees, contractors. That’s what makes it a tougher call. And sometimes there are repercussions, unintended consequences that may  lead to something no one ever predicted. Some people will always be prejudiced, but they should never be silenced. You can try to educate and reason, but some people will never be convinced. There are as many  opinions as they  are people. Confrontation is never a good way to go.

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